Search The World... In Briefs!

Friday, July 29, 2016



     I just returned from my first trip to New Orleans, and I think that qualifies me to write a visitor's guide, as a public service. After you unpack your bags, get right out and enjoy the sights and sounds of the French Quarter. You can smell Bourbon Street all the way from Decatur. It smells a little like a dead animal that passed away from drowning in a vat of Long Island iced tea. But once you get there, you become part of a party that no one is excluded from. There are no velvet ropes, no VIPs, and every age, color and religion are represented.
     Live music is held in high esteem here, which is refreshing. We stopped into several taverns to listen for a while. There were comely-looking girls roaming around with alcoholic shots served in a test tube. I don't know what experiment was being conducted, but if it was not successful, no one seemed to care. Some people looked as though they may have been drinking all night from an Erlenmeyer flask instead of a test tube.
     At Pat O'Brien's we sampled the legendary "hurricane," which contains four shots of rum. The recipe is a well-guarded secret that tastes suspiciously like Hawaiian Punch. In New Orleans you can take your drink with you and sip it as you walk down the street, which saves bouncers the trouble of throwing you out.
     The buildings in the French Quarter look pretty nondescript from the street, with their shuttered windows and doors. They are Spanish style, not French; the Spaniards were in power when most of the Quarter burned during devastating fires in the 18th century. One door is usually bigger than all the rest, the one the horse carriage went through to deliver people and goods into the pretty courtyards, where the actual front doors of New Orleans are found.
     Take the trolley over to the National World War II Museum. It's a world-class interactive journey back to a time when uncertainty and fear were a nightmare you couldn't wake up from. Here, through a series of kiosks, you can follow the very intimate story of a soldier specifically assigned to you, as he or she navigates their way through the war. You learn from their own un-minced words about their lives and personal details, until finally their families take out a restraining order on you.
     At the Jean Lafitte National Preserve, we toured the swampland in a 15-person hydrofoil. We were able to observe, in their natural habitat, any species of animal that was completely deaf, since this boat raised a cacophony that sounded like a DC-10 taking off from your living room. Alligators don't care, and they will do anything for marshmallows, which our guide lobbed prodigiously off the starboard. I asked him why marshmallows, and he shrugged his shoulders and drawled, "They'll eat anything, marshmallows, humans... marshmallows are cheaper." FYI, alligators can run up to 32 MPH on land in a short sprint, and swim just as fast. I feel certain that I could beat one at tennis, but I doubt you get your choice of athletic events when push comes to shove.
     Like a bayou magician he produced out of nowhere a baby alligator which we passed around like we were in "show and tell," thank god it wasn't still breastfeeding or anything. I held it for a little while, but I didn't know if I should pet it or not. It had lots and lots of teeth, even if they were small- so does a saber-saw.
     If my brother Mike had been there he would have waited for a lull then grabbed me on the leg in the vise-like grip of a mother alligator, and I would have pitched the little beast 20 feet in the air, and we would have all watched in horror waiting for it to come down to see whose hair it would land in. My brother was famous for doing things like that when I was a kid.
     Everybody seemed to be expecting me to be the one to say it, so I finally said, "See you later, alligator!" Passed the smiling critter back to the guide, and we all moved on with our lives.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016



     To me, the month of May means the advent of real, palpable Spring. it also means hay fever, yard work, little bugs that fly up your nose and meteorological mood swings. And to escape it all, the family vacation. Ten days of fun and frolic in places we probably haven't seen before, and may never see again, if they're lucky. It's the perfect way to remove all the stress from your life, while at the same time replacing it with different stress. There are a million things to do before we leave.

     Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. If there is one lesson I've learned over the years it's that one. That's why it's always so surprising that I never leave myself enough time to get to the airport.

     Packing takes some patience and skill. My suitcase seems heavy. They probably have a gym at the hotel, so I take the 20-pound barbells out of the bag. You can't bring juiceboxes with you on a plane, because Hawaiian Punch is an ingredient in explosives. You have to make sure your toenail clippers don't look like a weapon. If your toenails are too sharp, you should leave them at home, too.

     Figuring out what to do with our dog is a major consideration. The famous Gidget just turned one year old, which means that her primary goal is to cause as much destruction as she can within the shortest amount of time. Her happiness is directly proportional to the size of the claim we make to our homeowner's insurance. Her idea of fun is to bite onto your sleeve and lead you out into traffic. And if destruction of personal property and vandalism isn't on the menu, petty larceny certainly is. The worst kind of criminal, clever and diabolical, she will steal anything that isn't nailed down. And the first thing she will steal is the hammer and nails, so you can't nail anything down.

     Once in a while Gidget is so quiet, sitting off in the corner out of sight. Then the adrenaline of sudden fear shoots up my body, and I realize she is only quiet because she is quietly destroying something. Once I caught the dog chewing on a D-cell battery. I called the vet in a panic, because the last thing I needed was for this animal to be pumped up with extra voltage. The doctor didn't think there was much to worry about, except that it was not too bright to leave batteries around where the dog could get them. I told him if you think that's not too bright you should see my flashlight now.

     This year Sarah from the gym has bravely agreed to stay in our house and keep the dog company. Gidget's favorite game is to leave a pile of shredded up stuff on the floor, and you have to guess what it used to be. You can ask any "yes or no" question. "Did this used to have stuffing inside it?" (Tongue out signifies "No.") "Did it come in the mail?" (Head tilted to the side means "Yes!") "Did it look expensive?" (Gidget remembers previous appointment, exits in a hurry, means "YES!")

     Meanwhile, at the airport, our flight is delayed an hour. We start game of Scrabble,  and no one beats me at Scrabble. Is it my command of English syntax? My superior intelligence? No, it seems to be the fact that I know only two and three-letter words, which are like gold in Scrabble. And chances are, if I misspell one three letter word, it correctly spells a different one that I didn't even know about.

      My wife is telling me that they're already loading rows J,K and L. I tell her to hold her horses, it's going to be another 15 minutes before they get to us in row W, and I'm just about ready to notch another victory. 20 minutes later they're calling out for rows X,Y and Z. That reminds me: "zax" is a word! But my wife has dumped all the tiles back into the bag and left for the seat assignment counter, and that is clearly a default.

Friday, July 8, 2016



     I was stopped recently by the Lewisboro Police for not having an inspection sticker or license plate on my motorcycle. This seemed pretty weird since I had had both the last time I looked. I could only conclude that someone must have stolen them. An inspection sticker is not likely to just fall off, or they wouldn't call it a sticker, and the license plate was bolted on. It's not like they were collector's items or anything.

     I chose to fight the ticket and appear in court, because of the principle of the thing. The principle of the thing involved the parting of about a hundred and fifty bucks. There was no parking at the Lewisboro Town Hall, so I pulled into a space at the shopping center. It was obvious that even if I had my ticket dismissed, I would be issued another on the way out.

     There was a lengthy wait. I looked around the room and most people seemed pretty guilty. A couple of the accused were asleep, which made me believe they were innocent, but only in their dreams. I noticed a few people who looked like they were working on an insanity defense.

     Some were normal-looking, well-dressed and quiet. Those are the ones you have to watch out for. I had neighbor once who never said a word. Whenever you passed him he never said hello, just nodded at you even though you didn't ask him anything. I don't know if he ever committed any crimes, but he certainly had the psychological profile for it.

     I was getting bored- I didn't bring anything to read. I was hoping to be interviewed by the court reporter, but she must have been working on another story, all she did was type and type. I thought that if I couldn't successfully fight this ticket and for some reason I ended up in prison, I could at least make myself a new license plate.

     The justice was a woman, and I immediately became very frightened, because I watch a LOT of Judge Judy. If my magistrate yelled out "YOU'RE AN IDIOT," what evidence could I possibly use to refute that? But her honor was extremely polite and respectful. Do I call her "your honor" or "my honor?" I wasn't sure whose honor it actually was.

     Sometimes Judge Judy makes a move where she waves her arms really fast as if there is a bee about to land in her hair, and this means you're in idiot. Other times she laughs maniacally and loudly, then all of a sudden stops and calls you an idiot. Once in a while she doesn't say anything at all and just looks at you, because it seems obvious that you're an idiot.

     None of that happened, and the judge had a much better disposition than my case, although she did seem a little disappointed that I could not come to an agreement with the prosecutor. I felt like telling her that even though we didn't agree on my case, we had similar taste in neckties.

     If it please the court, I started yakking away about my theory that the inspection sticker and the license plate were stolen at the same time, and that I always get my motorcycle inspected when I have my yearly service done, etc. etc., but the court didn't look that pleased. I think I was talking too fast and too loud, but I wanted to make sure she heard my case. She told me I would get a notice in the mail with my trial date.

     If I did end up in the "Big House," I would want to further my education. I graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor's degree, under the agreement that if they handed me a diploma against their better judgment, I would never return. But now that I am married I might want to upgrade the bachelor's degree in prison. If this plan involves the least bit of math, I may have to commit a couple more crimes because it may take a while.

Friday, July 1, 2016



     Recently the Somers Historical Society helped celebrate World Circus Day. As you know, Somers is the "Cradle of the American Circus." It is not the "Birthplace of the American Circus," since there are a bunch of towns fighting over that moniker. There will probably be some DNA testing, a custody battle and some shaming by Maury Povich, and it might get messy, so watch where you step. But even being a "Cradle" rocks!

     Somers has long been associated with the circus, and you have only to look at that pulchritudinous pachyderm on top of the granite obelisk in front of the Town House to know why. Hachaliah Bailey was a farmer and rancher in Stephentown, soon to become Somers. While at a tavern in New York on a cattle trade, Bailey agreed to buy what was probably the second elephant in America for $1,000 dollars. Was there alcohol involved? My research suggests that 9 out of 10 elephants bought at a bar are acquired after considerable cocktails.

     Some say the sea captain who sold him the elephant was his brother, and some say the elephant was his brother. The year was 1804 or 1805, and Hachaliah sailed the beast up the Hudson in his sloop and disembarked at Sing-Sing, now Ossining. He named her "Old Bet." This could not have pleased his daughter very much, whose name was Elizabeth.

     Bailey and the elephant packed up their trunks and started walking to Somers. About 10 or 15 miles into the journey, Bailey was thinking that if he had only gotten a little drunker, he might have held out for a tiger or something that walked a little faster. No one knew how many days it took him since he traveled only at night- he didn't want gawkers getting a free glimpse.

     It's unclear whether he might have bought the animal to help plow his fields, but he soon realized that the attention it got could translate into a better living than he could make on the farm, since money doesn't grow on trees. He knew that he had something huge on his hands, and once he convinced the behemoth to stop sitting on his hand, he began to charge money for the privilege of viewing it.

     The Somers Historical Society has a newspaper clipping from 1808 announcing that a "living Elephant" will be seen at the house of William Satterwhite from the 20th to the 31st of December. It didn't say whether William Satterwhite had any choice in the matter. Admission was 25 cents, which back then was only a quarter of a dollar.

     Bailey wanted to address the elephant in the room, and the address he gave it was 335 Route 202, where he built the Elephant Hotel. His enterprising idea of showing exotic creatures was copied by others, and soon there were traveling "menageries" touring the country. The exhibition of lions, bears and others grew into what we now know as the NFC Central Division.

     Unfortunately, Old Bet was shot and killed while on exhibition in Maine by a farmer who thought it a sin to display animals for money. He should have known that even in the wild elephants are known to charge.

     As of 2018, elephants will no longer be employed in the "Greatest Show on Earth." Whether or not they will appear in the greatest shows on any other planets remains to be seen, but Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has said that new local laws governing the transportation and housing of the animals has made it difficult to continue the tradition. The thirteen elephants now traveling with the circus will retire to the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. There they will complain about their bad hips, knees, and how their kids never call them, like everybody else who retired to Florida.